We remember

An op-ed in the Globe & Mail recommended that Holocaust education be updated so that it include “a purposeful, civic-minded approach that grapples with the threat to democracy that fascism presents”. I agree.

While in Berlin a few years ago, I visited the Topography of Terror history museum located on the site of the former headquarters of the Gestapo and SS. Most memorable were not only the descriptions of the erosion of democratic norms that took place in Germany before and during the Second World War, but how closely they resemble current world events: the mobilization of populations to marginalize political opponents; the exploitation of new forms of mass media as central instruments for propaganda (in their case it was the mass-produced “People’s Radio set” instead of Twitter); the persecution of those who resisted this propaganda as “enemies of the people.”

The museum showed how democratic norms that previously seemed steadfast can quickly vanish under certain conditions. The phrase “never again” rings hollow if this element isn’t properly understood.

A good starting point would be to read the 2017 book On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century by Timothy Snyder. The book’s slenderness (128 pages) obscures the density of its impact. Snyder is an award-winning author and professor of history at Yale University. In On Tyranny, he lays the claim that our political order now faces threats not unlike the totalitarianism of the twentieth century — and that we are no wiser than those Europeans who saw democracy yield to fascism, Nazism, or communism. The book, which operates more as a “user’s guide” for the maintenance of democracy in the twenty-first century, provides readers with invaluable ideas for how we can preserve our freedoms in the uncertain years to come.


An edited version of this post was published as a Letter to the Editor in The Globe & Mail